Legendary gear maker Jim Dunlop playing a 12-string guitar

In Memoriam: Jim Dunlop

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Musician's Friend reflects on the life of music gear icon, Jim Dunlop.

The music industry lost a legend with the passing of Jim Dunlop on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, at the age of 82. As the founder of Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc., in 1965, Jim was responsible for much of the gear and accessories that have helped all of us make the music we love for over 50 years.

Scottish by birth, and a mechanical engineer and machinist by trade, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he made his first impact in the music world by filling a need for a 12-string capo with the 1100 capo, and later the 1400. These handmade pieces made a small, but immediate splash in the popular folk-guitar landscape of 1960s California. But Jim was far from done.

After a few years, and much research on the subject, he moved into making picks, and made the then-revolutionary decision to design them by thickness and produce a wide range of gauges for players of all walks. After more player-minded refinement, Jim eventually created Tortex Picks, which are still the most popular on the planet. As demand grew, so did the company and its range of offerings for musicians.

In the 1980s, with the massive success of his capos, picks, slides and more, he made the decision to buy the then-floundering Cry Baby brand and expand Dunlop into effects. Guitar players around the world rejoiced, as the iconic wah was brought back into the market, and has remained incredibly popular to this day with enthusiasts and professional musicians alike, including signature models from guitar heroes of yesterday and today.

He later expanded Dunlop's pedal offerings by working with Jimi Hendrix's father to recreate Jimi's iconic signal chain of then-discontinued effects, including the Fuzz Face, Uni-Vibe and Octavio. They were an immediate hit, and continued the company's upward path in the guitar gear world.

As his pedals grew in popularity over the following decades, Dunlop moved deeper into the effects world, acquiring MXR and Way Huge, which together produce some of the most beloved stomps in the guitar world. Some of their most popular designs include the legendary Phase 90 phaser, Swollen Pickle fuzz, Smart Gate, Dyna Comp compressor and Carbon Copy delay, with more being added to the roster every year.

But those are all just pieces of gear. The true magic of Jim and his namesake empire is what he's meant to musicians and music fans for the last 54 years.

Countless albums, songs, legendary performances and solitary moments of inspiration have been touched by Jim Dunlop. From the live and recorded magic made by the pick in Kirk Hammett's hand, the Phase 90 under Eddie Van Halen's foot, the strings under Billy Gibbon's fingers, the wah pedals used by Slash, Jerry Cantrell and Joe Bonamassa, to the kid who's learning how to hold a Tortex during his or her first guitar lesson — Jim helped make it all possible.

Musically, we've all stood on the shoulders of this giant for decades. And his mark will live on forever in the hearts and ears of everyone who listens to or makes music. For that, we say, "Thank you."

Rest in peace, friend.

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